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Protective charms and scary curses

We had some visitors to the stores today; the son and grandson of Rev. Lionel Weeks who is one of my favourite collectors. He was a Baptist missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo and particularly interested in local magic, or ju-ju as he called it.

A charm protecting you against lightning 

We have 5 whole boxes of magic from him, including charms to protect you from lightning, to make people forget debts that are owed, and to help with fertility. We even have a pretty odd looking ‘witch stick’.

Remind your friends to pay you back!

This charm helps you with fertility

It’s certainly the weirdest wand I have ever seen.

What an odd witch stick...

As we stood there poking about, it dawned on me that we were in fact surrounded by magic from all over the world, and not all of it friendly. I knew that two aisles down to the left sat a small Congolese Nkisi with the power to run about at night and give you a nasty disease should you offend it.

A Congolese Nkisi


Rev. West’s son, Arthur, was standing right in front of a shelf where I’d recently stumbled across a Sierra Leonean staff covered in human jawbones and a few rows down was an Ecuadorian shrunken head, or Tsansta, which is so dangerous it was recently described as being akin to a hand-grenade in the wrong hands.

A Sierra Leonean staff

As Rev. West’s Grandson, Richard, inspected a large Congolese knife, all I could think of was the Tibetan T'un-rva ram’s horn that is filled with magical substances and can be hurled at an enemy with disastrous effect.

A witch bottle

I began to freak out a little bit. But then I remembered that three aisles to the right, on the bottom shelf, in a small cardboard box and wrapped in many layers of acid free tissue paper, sat a tiny witch bottle. According to the label, its careful use can cause a witch with bad intentions to wee uncontrollably until she repents. It made me feel much, much better.

So magic comes in bad or good, and isn't that what Halloween is all about?

A Horniman Halloween

We have our Halloween Fair this weekend which features animal handling, spooky stories and a costume parade. Stuck for costume ideas? We have drawn inspiration from our collections to suggest some scary Halloween costumes.


OK, not very original but an easy costume, bed sheet over your head, two eye holes and you're ready to go.

This scene shows a kabuki actor bowing infront of King Enni, who reigns over the afterlife, behind the king float some translucent spirits or ghosts to get your creative juices flowing. Ancestor veneration is prevalent in many Japanese beliefs, but may relate to the Chinese philosopher Confusicus' ideas of filial piety (children respecting their parents). 


Twlight, Underworld and The Howling etc. all feature savage and bloodthirsty forms of werewolf and wolf making them a suitably scary Halloween costume. However, not all cultures feared wolves, for example Romans reverred wolves. According to myth (and history-ish), Rome was founded by Romulus. He and his twin were half divine but were abandoned at birth on the banks of the river Tiber. Fortunately, they were found by a wolf, who raised them as her own.

See, wolves aren't all bad.


You may need a friend to give you a lift or a small step ladder for an effective costume. Giants have been prevalent in mythology for millenia, this front piece comes from one such legend: the story of Jack the Giant Killer.

The earliest known publication of 'Jack' comes from 1711, and ours was published about a hundred years later. Also in this book is an edition of 'The Book of Wild Beasts' and 'Bluebeard'. There's another great costume idea, a pirate, or why not a giant pirate?


Quite frankly I don't find bats scary at all, and would quite happily have one with me at all times. From blood sucking vampires to massive Flying Foxes, bats have become the poster boy for halloween. Their vampire legacy and history is also inherent in their latin name: Pteropus vampyrus.

This playing card shows a 'Flying-dog' bat, presumably a term for the 'Flying-fox' which is the largest species of bat - actually known as Megabats!

Whether you can make a costume or not, feel free to come along and enjoy our fair, activities and museum this weekend at our Halloween Fair.

About the Art: Helen Marshall

We chatted with Helen Marshall, one of the artists who co-created our new exhibition: Project Tobong, which includes the stunning photograph, 'Airport'.

How did the collaboration for Project Tobong come about?

This was a very personal project for me, I met Risang whilst on holiday in Indonesia and he introduced me to Ketoprak Tobong Kelana Bakti Budaya, from this chance encounter came this wonderful story.

What is the meaning behind this photo?

The point of this exhibition, or one of them, is for you to make up your own story; there's no one way of interpreting these images. 'Airport' makes you think of beginning and end, old and new. This is a rapidly changing city, with new stories constantly being made, hence why there's no one narrative to follow.

Many viewers do think of the AirAsia crash which happened after this photograph was taken. It didn't inspire the shot, but it has now become part of the story if that's what it evokes for you. There are all sorts of questions in the image to make your own story

How did the composition for Airport come about?

Risang and I often take shots at the same time so we can then select the best ones to use. We also collaborated on the ideas, settings and poses. This one was more my idea as I was inspired by the airport and how close you could get to the planes; it's totally different to an airport in the UK.

Project Tobong also features images and materials from our archive and objects from our collections.

How long did you have to wait for the shot?

Long! It was very hot and uncomfortable and we kept trying different things, with the bow pointing different ways, waiting for the plane.

“We worked with imaginations, costumes and place to tell the stories”

Project Tobong is open and free to visit in the South Hall Balcony, more information on the project can be found here.

Musical Wonders of India

Among the highlights of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Festival of India this autumn, is a display in the Nehru Gallery of a number of the important and beautifully decorated historic instruments from India in their collection.

One of our musical instrument displays featuring a sitar

‘Musical Wonders of India’ is also a digital project featuring instruments in the exhibition, and created in partnership with Darbar Arts Culture Heritage Trust. At a symposium at the V&A celebrating the launch of ‘Musical Wonders of India’ last month, I discussed the Indian musical instruments in the collection of the Horniman, and their close connections with the V&A.

Margaret speaking at the V&A Symposium 

The V&A generously loaned 25 superb instruments to the Horniman which are now displayed in the ‘At Home with Music’ display in the Music Gallery. They also transferred over 150 European, Asian and African musical instruments that were passed to the Museum between 1956 and 1970. These are one of the cornerstones of the Horniman’s collection, which we have since added to and made publicly accessible.

Since the year 2000, the Horniman Museum has developed the South Asian collection by acquiring and commissioning instruments from makers in different regions of India. We have also filmed the instruments in performance, and documented aspects of their manufacture.

Thimila, hourglass-shaped drum made by Cherussery Kuttan Marar, Cherusserry village, Thrissur district, Kerala, 2001

This rudrā vīṇā or bīṇ, made in Patna around 1830 was formerly in the collection of the East India Company. It is a plucked stringed instrument with gourd resonators, which in this example are delicately painted in green and gold.

Rudra vina or bīṇ, Patna, circa 1830

A beautifully crafted 20th century example of the rudra vina by Kanailal & Brother of Kolkata, probably made between 1960 and 1980 by Murari Mohan Adhikar, was given to the Horniman in 2010 by John Larson, a former conservator at the V&A, and demonstrates how the instrument has developed. 

The rudrā vīṇā is traditionally used to accompany dhrupad, a revered and long-established genre of North Indian vocal music. During the 20th century, like many other stringed instruments in South Asia, the rudrā vīṇā was developed to become a solo instrument in its own right.

Ustad Bahauddin Dagar‘s concert on 20th September in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall vividly demonstrated the high level of virtuosity that can be attained on the rudrā vīṇā, and the instrument’s profound expressiveness. His memorable performance of a morning raga was part of a festival of Indian music at the South Bank organised by Darbar last month.

Horniman soil at the Tate

I was contacted in the summer by the Project Manager of this year’s Turbine Hall installation at Tate Modern - who lives in Forest Hill.  He explained the basic premise of obtaining soil samples across London and seeing what grows from them.  It all sounded very interesting and the Horniman Gardens team were really keen on helping out.


We have over 16 acres of gardens, perfect for soil harvesting

Empty Lot features a grid of 240 wooden planters filled with compost and over 23 tonnes of soil collected from parks and gardens all across London from Peckham Rye to Regent’s Park, and of course the Horniman Gardens. 

By the end of the summer we had supplied over two tonnes of the Horniman’s finest soil.  Spread across the site it was easy to supply that quantity without leaving gaping holes in our shrub borders. In September the artist Abraham Cruzvillegas visited the Horniman Gardens to see first-hand where the soil came from.  It was great to meet him and get more of an idea of what he was planning.


Our celebrity soil being used by seedlings in our nursery

Last night (12.10.15.) members of the Horniman Gardens team were invited to the opening at the Tate and were blown away by the installation, which fills almost all of the Hall.  The first seedlings could already be seen germinating and it will be fascinating to see what grows over the next few months - growing conditions have been artificially created using grow lights and hand watering the soil.


Sacks of Horniman soil packed up for the exhibition

Despite a few aching backs in the team from bagging up over two tonnes of soil it has been great to contribute to such an iconic art installation at Tate Modern.


For more information on the exhibition click here

Strictly Come Horniman

Dance is a key theme of our collections, including ballet shoes, dance masks and costumes: we do love a good dance at the Horniman.

A figure representing the god Shiva, Lord of Dance

A print titled 'The war dance by the Ojibbeway Indians'

An archive photo from Project Tobong showing a Javanese dancer

Static objects can only show so much, so we like to host live dance in our galleries and gardens, providing a unique venue and performance for our visitors and the artists we work with.

An African dance performance in our gardens

For over 5 years, we have worked with Trinity Laban, a music and dance conservatoire based in Greenwich, commissioning new performances and hosting hundreds of performers.

Georgina Pope, Head of Learning, tells us about the dance collaboration between the Horniman and Trinity Laban at our Curious Tea Party last year.

One of our most recent dance commissions was with the fabulous Mandinga Arts as part of our African Summer. African Summer had a strong dance element, launching with African Dance. The event included performances by Trinity Laban, ADAD, Tazaviza and Ballet Nimba, all giving unique performances set against our gardens, bandstand and galleries.

Mandinga Arts leading our Africarnival with a brightly coloured dance

It is relatively rare for a museum to host dance performances, but we do like to do things differently. There are many artistic and logistical considerations to make but we love the chance to host cross-arts events with a broad participatory mindset.

With such a strong dance legacy and presence it's no surprise Strictly Come Dancing recently filmed a group performance in our gardens and we opened the show on 11th October.

If you would like to see some Horniman Dance, why not waltz down to our Secret Late on Thursday 12th November which features prohibition themed swing dance and circus performances.

Some of our Twitter fans' comments on our dance events this summer:



Javanese collections at the Horniman

The Collection

Objects from Java were among Frederick Horniman’s earliest collections. By 1901 there were model boats, horn hookahs, wooden cattle bells, a bronze sheep bell, an opium pipe and several knives from Java. 

In 1923 the Museum purchased a group of Javanese objects from a Mr. E.T. Campbell. These included a set of carved wooden chessmen, 22 shadow puppets, four rod puppets and four very striking masks. 

In that year, Fredrick’s son Emslie travelled through Bali, Java and Sumatra. From Java he brought back some photographs, and his letters to the curator were very evocative of his journey in an open top touring car. 

In 1949 a collection of more than 75 shadow puppets was purchased from William Oldman, a dealer. In 1958 six more Javanese masks were acquired, this time purchased from Sotheby’s.

A small collection of masks, drawings and paintings collected in Bali by Beryl de Zoete in the 1930s was passed to the Museum after her death in 1962. More important than the objects was the enormous collection of photographs and film now held in the Museum’s library archive, which included some from Java.

It was not until 2001 that the Indonesian collections really began to develop again. This began with the acquisition of five rod puppets, made by puppeteer Pak Asep Sunandar Sunarya of Bandung and purchased specifically for display in an exhibition of puppetry.

A variety of other material has come in over the years from various sources, including examples of batik from Dr Minter-Goedbloed, Ann Douthwaite and the late Christopher Scarlett, formerly Chairman of the Anglo-Indonesian Society.

The Museum has recently been expanding its collection of batik from Java in preparation for a forthcoming display. In 2013 I made a study visit to Java, supported by a Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grant, and filmed the process for the Museum.

Project Tobong

Project Tobong is a new exhibition featuring Ketoprak Tobong Kelana Bakti Budaya, one of the few remaining ‘Ketoprak’ theatre troupes in Indonesia.

This community of travelling players performs traditional musical dramas through spoken soliloquy, dialogue and singing, using a ‘tobong’ - a portable bamboo structure.

Interest in traditional storytelling is lessenging, and audiences for Ketoprak are dwindling.

Project Tobong explores the players’ predicament by presenting a series of living pictures which use the language of Ketoprak (the costumes and postures of performance) to reference its own threatened status. 

An evening of coral

This week we hosted our exclusive Members’ Coral Reefs: Talk and Tour. A special event in partnership with the Natural History Museum which explored our recent collaboration on their exhibition, Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea.

Ken kicking the event off to a full house in Gallery Square

With half the Members from the NHM and half from the Horniman, Gallery Square buzzed with excitement about our mutual coral interest.

Our Members enjoying a private view of our popular aquarium

The evening gave Members a fascinating insight into coral reefs and the threats that face our marine life with interesting talks by NHM’s coral reefs expert, Ken Johnson, and Horniman Aquarium Curator Jamie Craggs.  

Ken gave a fascinating introduction to corals, which are in fact an animal, made up of thousands of tiny polyps. It was shocking to see the serious effect of coral bleaching and how that has completely changed the history of coral reefs.

Members also enjoyed one to one chats with curator Jamie and Ken from the Natural History Museum

Jamie complimented this talk well by reflecting on the exhibition collaboration, the amazing installation of the tank at the Natural History Museum and introduced Project Coral; an innovative coral sexual reproductive research project.

A behind the scenes look at our Mangrove display

After the talks, the Members had an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Aquarium, an opportunity to look closer at the ground-breaking work of Horniman Project Coral.

You can find out more about Horniman Project Coral here 



Conserving a Cree Shirt

Although our new gallery displaying our anthropology collections is still some years away, we have already started work preparing and conserving objects to be shown in the gallery, as Charlotte from our Conservation Department explains.

One of the objects which we hope to display in the new gallery is this shirt, from the Cree people of North America. The shirt is more than 200 years old. However, it needs significant conservation before it can go on display.

The shirt is possibly made of brain tanned deer hide.

The intricate rosettes and bands are made of dyed porcupine quills. The lack of bead work and the naturally-dyed quillwork indicates that it’s possibly from the late 1700s / early 1800s and quite an old example of a shirt.

The quillwork on the shoulders was probably dyed with "modern dyes" which suggest these bands were added at a later date.

Quite a lot of quillwork is lifting off the hide, so we need to secure that. Also, the hide is really stiff and crunchy!

We're going to try and introduce some flexibility by carefully applying moisture to the hide, which we'll then manipulate until it's dry.

Hopefully this technique should help the hide regain some suppleness!

There are also tears that need structural repairs so it can go on display in our new Anthropology gallery.

It's quite a complex project and we'll keep you all up to date as we treat it.

Food Glorious Food: From Garden to Kitchen

If you read our previous Food Glorious Food blog you'll see how much we grow in our gardens and the variety of produce Damien has been harvesting. Berries, potatoes, marrows and herbs, we get a lot from our Food Garden.

Some of our homemade cakes using our own fruit

With so much tasty food being grown in our gardens, we wouldn't want it to go to waste so our chefs in the cafe cook up some fantastic food that you can enjoy.

The Horniman cafe

Jason has made a warming moussaka made with aubergine grown in our food garden. We have a beautiful Black Beauty variety growing here at the Horniman that tastes as good as it looks.

This savoury course (below) is a sausage and caramelised red onion filling inside a crispy pastry lattice, seasoned with Horniman-grown herbs(easily one of my favourites). On the side is tomato salad with a range of varieties we grow here, including red, green and yellow varieties.

Is it lunchtime yet?

And it wouldn't be the Horniman without a good gateaux. When I popped into the cafe Val was finishing this beautiful fig and marrow cake that looks delicious.

Fig and marrow cake

I've tried making cakes using courgette before and it ended up (to quote Mary Berry, the Doyenne of Dainties) with a soggy bottom. Val's cake was perfectly formed, but she wouldn't let me in on her secret recipe, yet.

The menu in our cafe is constantly changing, so be sure to pop in and see what takes your fancy.

A Hungarian stew with home-grown cabbage.

If you're a fan of tea and cake, and all things foodie join us on Saturday 26th September for our event Food Glorious Food, part of Urban Food Fortnight. This event marks the 2nd anniversary of our Farmers' Market and the launch of Tea Trail London, a vibrant new webapp mapping tea's history and tea customs across London.

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